Jose Mourinho admitted Tottenham Hotspur were not “strong enough to cope with it psychologically” as they dramatically surrendered a 3-0 lead to draw at home to West Ham United who spoiled Gareth Bale’s homecoming to the club.
In an extraordinary comeback West Ham became the first team in Premier League history not to lose after being three goals down in the 81st minute with substitute Manuel Lanzini, with the last kick of the game, claiming a point with a stunning strike.
Mourinho dismissed suggestions that Bale’s second debut for the club he left on 2013 for a world-record fee to Real Madrid had been a distraction as the forward came off the substitutes bench in the 71st minute and with the game seemingly won.
“I don’t think so,” Mourinho said. “The decision not to start him was a good decision. A decision to show that he doesn’t have a beautiful chair waiting for him in the team and he sits there the first time he can. It was a message to the team that everyone has to fight for their position. Everything is positive and the focus was not on him. It was a pity he could not score the fourth goal, it would have been a beauty and it would have killed the game.”
Indeed Bale had a clear opportunity to score and end West Ham’s comeback, with the score-line 3-2, but sent his shot wide in injury-time. “Of course I have to analyse the second-half and have to do it internally, but for you I prefer to say football happened, and praise West Ham's belief,” Mourinho maintained.
"Not deliberately, but the team was dropping, with (substitute Harry) Winks we found balance again and were in control. It was exactly when we were in control that we conceded the first and their belief went up. My guys were not strong enough to cope with it psychologically. The last few seconds we lost two points.”
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Asked whether it was an example of the softness that Mourinho criticised Spurs for last season, the head coach said: “I don’t want to go there. We have new players and play better than last season. I can also say the same about West Ham. West Ham today is a much better team than it was when (David) Moyes arrived. The team is in evolution, we play much better, we know how we want to play, we score lots of goals and I think there is a great evolution in the team. Even defensively the team is much better than before.
“It is easier for me to praise them (West Ham) than criticise us. I prefer to say they had incredible belief and probably score the first goal when they did not have that belief any more. The first goal appears and everything changed and we were not good enough or strong enough to cope with the last 10 minutes.”
A victory for Spurs would have taken them into the top four and fuelled belief of a title challenge but, instead, they are yet to win at home after three league games this season with Moyes returning from a period of self-isolation to take charge of West Ham from the touchline.
"The team talk was really difficult at half-time,” Moyes said. “We were 3-0 down but played well, apart from the first 10 minutes. I didn't think we needed to change anything.” Meanwhile West Ham captain Declan Rice called the comeback “one of those special moments in football. Like it was meant to be” and added of Spurs “for some reason they dropped off us”. Thrillingly West Ham took advantage.